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From Versailles to Mers El-Kebir

The Promise of Anglo-French Naval Cooperation, 1919–40
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Published:October 15, 2015
By George E. Melton (Author)

“In the vast outpouring of studies on the Second World War and its origins, little attention has been paid to Anglo-French naval relations. Dr. Melton’s admirable study, drawing as it does on both British and French archival sources, goes far to rectify this oversight.”—Naval History Book Reviews

The two decades before World War II were some of the most unsettled in modern history. From Versailles to Mers el-Kébir examines one of the most unlikely—and perhaps least studied—relationships to form during that turbulent era: the alliance of the Royal Navy and the French fleet. Beginning from a global perspective and gradually narrowing, George E. Melton brings new insights to the diplomacy that led to this often strained cooperation and reinterprets some of the most important events of early World War II.


By the mid-1930s the Royal Navy and French fleet had overextended themselves with global defense commitments, owing mainly to the collapse of the world war alliances and to an ominous shift in the balance of world naval power. To maximize their power, England and France combined their assets in a naval alliance. Successful in keeping both Italy and Japan neutral early in the war, that alliance brought the French and English success against German surface raiders and U-boat operations in the Atlantic. The two powers were on such good terms that in1939, during a joint operation to the north of Scotland, HMS Hood and its escorts served for a week under the command of Vice Admiral Marcel Gensoul, French commander of the Dunkerque. Afterward, the British seamen affectionately referred to the Dunkerque as “the friend of the Hood.”


Still, the union was not an altogether happy one. The global defense imperatives of the Admiralty frustrated the regional ambitions of the Rue Royale. The union ultimately came to a violent end when the British attacked the French squadron at Mers el-Kébir in the summer of 1940 after France had signed an armistice with Germany. What followed was a poorly constructed cover up to mask the operation as a regrettable but necessary action. Melton’s study challenges this popular myth. Thoroughly researched and documented, From Versailles to Mers el-Kébir concludes that the operation was a disastrous failure.

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Product Details
  • Subject: Naval History
  • Hardback : 288 pages
  • Illustrations: 16 b/w photos; 2 maps
  • Publisher: Naval Institute Press (October 15, 2015)
  • ISBN-10: 1612518796
  • ISBN-13: 9781612518794
  • Product Dimensions: 6.125 X 9.25 in
  • Shipping Weight: 22.08 oz
  • From Versailles to Mers el-Kébir details the sometimes fruitful, often turbulent relationships between British and French statesmen and navy officials during international naval conferences in the period between the two world wars. The book details with precision and considerable relevance the differing perceptions regarding the danger posed by confrontation with Germany and Italy. Based on numerous archival sources, this is a valuable reference work that advances the knowledge of all readers who wish to understand the period in terms of diplomatic relations and naval strategy.”—Hervé Grall, co-author of La Mémoire de Mers el-Kébir, president of the Association of Former Sailors and Families of the Victims of Mers el-Kébir
  • “The Anglo-French naval relationship remains one of the most important, and less well-understood, alliances of the twentieth century. George Melton's excellent study sheds light on this relationship's successes and troubles during the interwar era and offers important new perspectives on the alliance's famous ups and downs during the war itself. It is vital for anyone who wants to know more about the war at sea during World War II, the Mediterranean's wild history, and how navies cooperate in alliances.”—Jon Hendrickson, author of Crisis in the Mediterranean: Naval Competition and Great Power Politics, 1904‒1914
  • “In the vast outpouring of studies on the Second World War and its origins, little attention has been paid to Anglo-French naval relations. Dr. Melton’s admirable study, drawing as it does on both British and French archival sources, goes far to rectify this oversight.”—Naval History Book Reviews
  • “Professor Melton's study of Anglo-French naval relations between World War I and into the Second World War is outstanding in its careful research and judgments.”—Larry H. Addington, head, department of history (Ret.), The Citadel
  • From Versailles to Mers el-Kébir is a clear and compelling account of Anglo-French naval relations leading up to the tragic surprise attack on French naval units by their erstwhile British allies in July 1940. Melton has given voice to the French perspective in a balanced history that fills a long-standing gap in the literature and gives proper weight to the post–World War I renaissance of France’s Marine Nationale. His work advances our understanding of how great nations work together and how, sometimes, they don’t to great cost of all concerned. From Versailles to Mers el-Kébir is a real eye opener and is especially relevant in today’s environment where coalitions are the basis of all military and diplomatic action.”—Vincent P. O’Hara, author of Torch: North Africa and the Allied Path to Victory
  • Naval Review readers will be able to imagine what it would be like to be commanded to turn suddenly on allied ships with which they have been working harmoniously. Whether they sympathise with Churchill, Pound or Darlan, they will have to admit that Melton makes a good case in this excellent book particularly in his criticisms of British appeasement policies and the ignorance of the political elite about strategic realities.”—The Naval Review (UK)
  • “Melton offers some very good looks at a number of political and military leaders, with surprising views on Pierre Laval and particularly Jean Darlan, who emerges a considerably less of a collaborator than is customarily believed. From Versailles to Mers El-Kébir>/i> is an essential work for anyone interested in the naval diplomacy of the interwar period and naval operations during the ‘Phony War.’”— The Strategy Page
  • "...A fascinating and thought-provoking study of the Anglo-French naval and political relationship during the late 1930's..." - Warship 2017
  • From Versailles to Mers-el-Kébir does not settle all historiographic debate as to the effectiveness and broader strategic goals of Anglo-French naval cooperation between 1919 and 1940. What it does is provide a valuable overview of that cooperation from a French perspective.... Melton adds a strongly pro-French interpretation to the extant literature, and a necessary interpretive framework to any discussion of naval relations in the interwar era.” —H-War

George E. Melton received his master’s and doctorate degrees in modern European history with an emphasis on French naval and diplomatic history. He has been a member of the faculty at St. Andrews University in Laurinburg, North Carolina, since 1968.

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